They’d just done a tour of the NBC studios in New York City and were walking down to the merchandising area when someone from Seth Meyers’ Late Night show walked up and asked if they’d like to sit in on a rehearsal of that evening’s show. Mary McGlynn, owner of PowerSpeaking, Inc. and Melinda Henning, longtime Master Facilitator, looked at each other and said, “Absolutely!” We talked with them about what turned out to be an extraordinary experience...
PSI team: So, what does a Late Night rehearsal look like?
MM: It’s an incredibly creative, iterative process that occurs in a pressure cooker timeframe! We learned the writing starts early in the morning. Rehearsal for Seth’s monologue starts at about 2:30 and the actual show is filmed at 5:30 or so.
In the rehearsal, Seth first came out and simply talked with us, building rapport, and explaining how the monologue would go. He asked us to laugh when something was truly funny; and if something didn’t hit the mark, to not respond. Meanwhile, the show’s writers and I’m guessing production staff, about 15 people in all, sat off to the side of the stage.
MH: Seth told us they wrote three times as many jokes as he actually ended up using. And while he was trying them out, sitting at his desk just as if he were doing the show, the writers were in the background noticing the reactions of the audience and furiously editing.
MM: Yes! I noticed that when a joke hit the mark with the audience, one of the writers would elbow the writer sitting next to him, as if to say, “Congratulations, we did it!” It was amazing to see how many iterations they would go through to get the material to a higher and higher level of success with the audience.
PSI team: You’d never know there was so much work behind the scene because it all looks so spontaneous and effortless in the show!
MM: [laughing] ‘Effortless’ comes from a lot of rehearsal!
PSI: It sounds like Seth and the Late Night staff’s iterative and creative process is a great example of how important rehearsal and connecting is, no matter what kind of “performance.”
MM: Absolutely. We have a similar iterative format in our live workshops. We start out with a two-minute talk, and it’s all about organization. Then the next iteration adds organization plus delivery style issues. Then visual aids. Then putting everything together. So you’re constantly fine-tuning the content, but then you’re adding the other elements that make for a powerful, compelling presentation.
PSI team: So in all of those practice iterations, do participants get feedback from the audience as well?
MM: Yes. For example, in the beginning we keep the feedback session very structured by focusing on the question, “What’s the core message of the presenter’s talk?” If everyone gets the core message, great; if not, the presenter can work on that during their coaching sessions.
MH: It struck me that Seth clearly wanted to know who his audience was, which is one of the first things we teach our workshop participants. A presentation or performance really isn’t about you. It’s about, how does the audience think, and how can you reach them on their terms? What do they already know, what do they want to know, or what are the problems they want solved? What struck me was, he wasn’t going to go on the air until he got to know his audience and tried the material out on them.
Speaking of his audience, one thing I noticed was that he seemed to love them. He came out in casual clothes and was very personable and chit-chatted with everybody, as if we were friends already.
MM: He has a wonderfully warm smile. And he made a special effort to connect with people from
other countries in the audience. “Tell me where you’re from,” he’d say. He wanted to get to know the
people who were there and give them a wonderful welcome. I later read a great quote by Seth in a New
York Times article, in which he talked about asking if anyone was from a country outside the U.S. “We
learned to ask, because I was always shocked when jokes didn’t quite work. If you have an audience
that’s all from, like, Sweden, you can’t believe how little they know about Michael Cohen.” Great
MH: We talk about that in workshops, where we suggest presenters arrive early, greet people at the door, and get to know them a little bit. By doing that, you make friends and learn to relate to them as individuals, and not as a mass audience.
MM: A presentation starts with that first impression, and how you're connecting. For me, Seth Meyers was a master at making everything count: knowing the audience, building rapport, testing the material, rehearsing, iterating—and coming off as effortless because of all that preparation. What an adventure!
On the journey with you,
The PowerSpeaking, Inc. Team